When Massachusetts voters went to the polls last month, they overwhelmingly voted to pass the right-to-repair referendum known as "Question 1." Now, after a strenuous battle to dissuade voters from passing the change in legislation, a coalition representing automakers from across the globe has filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the referendum from becoming law.
The initiative passed by voters would expand Massachusetts' right-to-repair legislation to include "mechanical" vehicle telematics data—real-time updates from a car's sundry sensors transmitted to an automaker's private servers—to the list of things OEMs have to share with independent mechanics if the manufacturer wants to sell vehicles in the state. This is in addition to the standardized information currently provided thanks to Massachusetts' original right-to-repair law which was passed in 2013, and frankly, something seemingly necessary to level the playing field as cars have become more computerized and heavily reliant on real-time data.
The suit was filed by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group whose members include automakers like General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen, and other companies that produce low-level components for vehicle manufacturers. According to the alliance, the work required automakers to forego "years of manufacturers' work and billions of dollars" which has already been invested in protecting and securing vehicle data.
Moreover, the revised legislation would require automakers to be in compliance with the data-sharing mandate for all vehicles sold as model year 2022 and beyond. The alliance claims that this is a "grossly unrealistic time frame."
One must consider that any connected vehicle will inherently become the subject of cybersecurity threats—that includes vehicles already on the market today. Automakers must design, test, and implement secure methods of information transmission in order to safely comply with Massachusetts' requirements. The most recent argument being slung against the mandate is centered around the time it will take to design a new system that mitigates these threats.
In fact, the Vice President of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, Robert O'Koniewski, says that dealers may have 2022 models on their lots as early as March 2021, meaning that automakers would need to bring themselves into compliance quite quickly in order to align with the new right-to-repair mandate. O'Koniewski noted in a comment to Automotive News that a more realistic timeframe would be to delay compliance until the 2025 model year, "at minimum."
But proponents of the referendum infer that the lawsuit is nothing more than a last-ditch effort to undermine the voice of Massachusetts voters and consumers.
“After spending $26 million only to be resoundingly defeated at the ballot box, the big automakers still don’t get it,” said Rob Gray, the right-to-repair committee spokesman, in a statement to the Boston Globe. “Their baseless, anti-democratic lawsuit attempts to thwart the will of the voters and their customers, who voted by a 75 percent majority for Right to Repair.”
It's unclear what will come of the federal lawsuit. It's worth noting that the passage of the 2013 legislation resulted in automakers adopting a nationwide right-to-repair standard, and should a federal judge stand by the passage of the referendum, it may very well lead to similar nationwide standards being created once again. But should a judge find in the alliance's favor, it could overturn the referendum as a whole.
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